Study: Husbands Are Holding Back Women's Careers

News & Views | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 11/20/2014 | 01:45 PM EST

Harvard Business School finds that women are taking backseat to their men

In a 2006 book titled “Get To Work,” author Linda Hirshman wrote that in order for women to have a successful career they have to do one of two things: marry a man committed to equality or “marry down.”

“If you are devoted to your career goals and would like a man who will support that, you're just doing what men throughout the ages have done: placing a safe bet,” she once explained.

Well it looks like Hirshman was onto something.

A new Harvard Business School study of HBS graduates reveals that high-achieving women are not meeting the career goals they set for themselves in their 20s. The cause, however, isn’t because they’re choosing to drop out of the workforce for motherhood, but because they’re putting the careers of their partners before their own.


Interviewing over 25,000 men and women who graduated from HBS, study authors found that male graduates were more likely to be in senior management positions than their female peers.

More interestingly, generationally speaking women as a whole take the backseat to their men. Among Gen X and baby boomers they surveyed, 40 percent said their spouses’ careers took priority over theirs.

Additionally, more than 70 percent of Gen X and boomer men say their careers are more important than their wives’. And for child care responsibilities, the numbers are even more clear cut. An astounding 86 percent of Gen X and boomer men said their wives take primary responsibility for child care, and the women, 65 percent of Gen X women and 72 percent of boomer women, say they do most of the child care in their relationships.

The study’s authors note that while millennial men surveyed are a little more egalitarian than their older peers, half of the youngest men still assume that their careers will take precedence, and two-thirds of them assume their spouses will do the majority of child care.

And while there are a handful of female CEOs, Slate points out that many of the current crop have husbands who don’t work.

While many ambitious women would like to believe that they wouldn’t fall victim to their husbands’ careers, the numbers tell quite a different story.

(Photo: Mark Edward Atkinson/Blend Images/Corbis)

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